A team of psychologists at Harvard and University of Virginia found people are poor predictors of their future selves.
They underestimate how much their tastes will change in a few years time, although they can see how much they’ve changed in hindsight.
That means most people will never achieve what they think they will achieve. Because really, they have no idea what their future selves will want, and it will most likely differ from their current aspirations.”Any kind of lifetime commitment is based on your belief that you know the person you’re going to be in 10 years,” explains Daniel Gilbert, one of the Harvard scientists who conducted the study. And unfortunately, most don’t know.
Gilbert, Jordi Quoidbach and Timothy Wilson rounded up 19,000 subjects between the ages of 18 and 68 who participated in online experiments. They answered questions about themselves in the past, present and future.
One question asked: How much would you pay to see your favourite band from 2002 play next week, and how much would you pay to see your current favourite band play in 2022?
People were willing to pay 61% more for the latter. “You’d think by the time people reach middle age they’d realise that their favourite band today isn’t necessarily going to be their favourite band in 10 years,” Gilbert wrote in the report.
The findings suggest people assume they’ll remain in their current states, more or less, forever — even though people 10 years older than them recall changing over the previous decade.
Gilbert calls the ability to accurately recall the past and inaccurately predict future aspirations “the end of history illusion.”
“What these data suggest, and what scads of other data from our lab and others suggest, is that people really aren’t very good at knowing who they’re going to be and hence what they’re going to want a decade from now,” says Gilbert.
So, how do you set yourself up for a bright future if you don’t actually know what you’ll want in 10 years?
“The single best way to make predictions about what you’re going to want in the future isn’t to imagine yourself in the future,” says Gilbert. “It’s to look at other people who are in the very future you’re imagining.”
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